There is no ‘My Garden This Weekend’ post this week as I have been away at an Alpine Garden Society conference near Stratford for the weekend. Alpines are a new fascination for me and I discovered the Alpine Garden Society a year ago when someone directed me to their wonderful seed – in my opinion the best seed distribution scheme available.
I quickly discovered that the term ‘Alpine’ does not exclusively refer to the cushion plants you see exhibited in large pots on the show circuit, such as Draba and Dionysia. The Alpine Garden Society’s interest is far more extensive. The definition of ‘Alpine’ in the Society show handbook says:
The term covers all plants, including shrubs, suitable for cultivation in a rock garden of moderate size or in an unheated frame or alpine house. It excludes any plants which will not survive an average British winter under such conditions but includes any plants which do not necessarily grow in mountainous regions
Essentially, if you think about mountainous areas there are a wide range of habitats below the extreme scree and rocky summits. In some areas, such as Sikkim, China and North America, the lower slopes are predominantly woodland so you have such plants as Peonies, Trilliums, Epimediums, Ferns, Erythronium and Arisaema. There are the alpine meadows from where we get Primulas, Silene, Aquilegia, Delphinium. Then there are the bulbs, virtually all bulbs you can think of are classed as Alpines although some from areas of Southern Hemisphere are sometimes not counted if they need heat over our winter. So you see there is far far more to the world of alpines than the neat cushion plants.
It isn’t just the wide range of plants covered that I enjoy about the society it is the members and the wealth of knowledge they happily share. I have been to a number of local horticultural societies and it wasn’t until I joined some specialist societies: the Alpine Garden Society and the Hardy Plant Society that I met the really passionate plants people whose company I enjoy and knowledge I feed off. I naively thought I was fairly knowledgeable before I joined these societies but I soon realised that there is a vast world of plants out there that I have never heard of until now. I have mentioned during the year the two shows I have attended and my experience of helping with the seed distribution scheme.
This weekend I have spent two whole days completely immersed in the world of alpines and I have learnt so much as well. The theme of the conference was a Celebration of European Alpines – going back to the original focus of the society when it formed some 83 years ago. We have travelled all over the place from Kop Dag in Turkey, through Northern Spain, the French Alps, the Mountains of the Balkans ending up in Greece, oh and with a brief side step to Snowdonia (my favourite talk). We heard about the alpine area of Kew Garden from its curator, we learnt how to propagate through cuttings, division and grafting and finally, and a little challenging for me, we heard about the classification and endless reclassification of European orchids. There were a number of nurseries, including the wonderful Aberconwy Nursery and a vast array of books to buy. As year old member there was a whole host of new people to meet although I knew a few from my local group. People are friendly and generous with their knowledge and don’t seem to flinch when you ask what you think are silly questions.
One of the highlights was the plant auction held after the dinner on Saturday evening. There had been various donations of plants including from conifers from Ashwood Nurseries and some 20 slipper orchids from Harry Jans of JansAlpines. There was fierce bidding with a pot of 3 snowdrop bulbs (a rare variety whose name escapes me) going for around £90 and the slipper orchids going for £25 – £75 a pot. I put my toe in the water briefly and ‘won’ a bag of 50 narcissus bulbs for £16. I need to look up the variety but I am sure they aren’t that run of the mill.
I have really enjoyed myself, although I am quite tired this evening and feel that I need a few days break from plants, and I would thoroughly recommend to anyone who is really interested in plants that they should consider joining a specialist society especially the Alpine Garden Society.